“Father, forgive them, and may Thy burning anger overtake them.”

Yes, it is in the Bible, though admittedly not in its entirety in the one place. However, it is closer to the spirit of what was meant than one might think, and should give one cause to wonder who “they” were.

The above ‘quote’ is made up of two quotes. The first is from Luke 23:34. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

These famous words were uttered a very short time after Jesus pronounces unbearable tribulation upon the “Daughters of Jerusalem” and their children (Luke 23:28-30).

Many point to verse 34 as a model of supreme forgiveness. If Jesus can forgive those who were killing Him, then surely we are also to forgive those who do evil to us!

Well, we are told to love even our enemies, so the conclusion may well be true. However the premise itself, in this case, is faulty. How could Jesus ask forgiveness for those whom He had just stated would take the full guilt and suffer terribly for it (Luke 23:28-30, Matthew 23:34-36)?

So Jesus was not asking for forgiveness of everyone who was there?

If Jesus were asking for His Father to forgive all of His murderers,

  • He would have been contradicting Himself or at least changing His mind, and
  • His words would be shown to have fallen on deaf ears. The punishment of Jerusalem is a matter of history.

For whom then was He asking forgiveness?

Jesus prayed to His Father, shortly before He was betrayed and arrested:

John 17:6-15 – “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world… (15) I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one… (20) I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…

When Jesus was gone, He would empower His disciples to preach in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel at first, then to the ‘world’ at large. Therefore, Jesus already understood that there were among the mob calling for His crucifixion a remnant who would repent. No doubt He could have identified them even as they cried to Pilate, “Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!” It would have been a moving experience for Jesus, seeing and hearing these angry people, possibly even being spat on by the same, yet knowing that they were acting out of a madness and blindness from which they needed deliverance. They deserved everything that Jesus knew would be about to occur to the doomed bride-turned-harlot, and yet He also knew that the very vile act they committed would be the rendering of the sacrifice that would set them free.

As yet, however, they were acting in ignorance, and so Jesus asks the Father to forgive them for that reason. Not all of them, not the ones upon whom would fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth (Matthew 23:35), but the ones who would be pierced to the heart, and ask, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

Can we be sure? Could Jesus have softened and relented towards His killers?

Perhaps Jesus was the compassionate one of the God-head family, wishing to gather Jerusalem under His wings and pleading to His Father for their forgiveness… but had His request ultimately denied?

The words and actions of Jesus at the time, I believe, indicated that He was just as aware of – in fact looking forward to – the soon-to-occur judgement on the adulterous Israel, of which He had said: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled, but I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished.” (Luke 12:49,50)

The fulfillment of prophesies

The life, work and words of Jesus were often shown to have been the ultimate fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. This has led to the ‘doctrine’ of ‘Multiple Fulfillment’, the mistaken notion that even Jesus’ prophesies about the destruction of Jerusalem would also be fulfilled twice or even more times. However, this is another issue.

Even the Psalms were shown to be, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, prophetic utterances in the form of praise, prayers, and lamentations.

For example, when Jesus cries out, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” (Luke 23:46), He is probably quoting Psalm 31:5. Now, it could be that He is simply crying out the same words that David happened to in that Psalm, but if Jesus were in fact identifying Himself with the subject of David’s words, it puts a whole new perspective on that particular Psalm. Reading the whole of Psalm 31 suddenly comes alive as a view of Jesus’ suffering and hope in His Father.

Matthew and Mark record another of David’s Psalms that Jesus quotes: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)

This is from Psalm 22:1 Psalm 22 again summarizes the rejection Jesus would have suffered, but also His hope and praise: (16) “They pierced my hands and my feet. (18) They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots (See John 19:24,25 – “This was to fulfill the Scripture… Therefore the soldiers did these things.”)

In all of the gospels, the writers record how Jesus is given sour wine (vinegar) to drink. John states that this act was deliberately planned by God so that another Psalm would be shown to be prophetic (Psalm 69:21):

John 19:28-31 – After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” (29) A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. (30) Therefore when Jesus Had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” (31) And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

John seems have a real understanding of Scripture pointing to Christ. These were David’s psalms, after all, and yet it seemed that so much of the Old Testament was some kind of Messianic prophesy. “This was to fulfill the Scripture; Jesus… to fulfill the Scripture, said…”

This is seen in other places, recorded by others also:

Matthew 1:22 – Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah 7:14): “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.”

Matthew 2:15 – This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Hosea 11:1): “Out of Egypt I call My Son.”

Matthew 2:17 – Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled (Jeremiah 31:15).

Matthew 2:23 – This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets…

Matthew 3:3 – For this is the one (John the Baptist) referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said (Isaiah 40:3)…

And so on, and so on…

David’s Psalms as prophesies might be bit of a surprise, but bear in mind that Jesus is the eternal King on David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 9:7). David and Jesus are the first and last kings (Saul had his reign taken from him, and given to David, with whom the Lord promised an everlasting throne). Just as the throne that David established would be fulfilled in Jesus’ sovereignty, his words would similarly be fulfilled in Jesus.

Naturally, David’s words, like those of all the prophets, had an immediate relevance. However, the writers of the Gospels clearly understood that their real relevance lay with their reference to Jesus.

And, of course, Jesus understood it also:

Luke 24:44 – “… that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Back to one of John’s references:

John 19:28-31 – After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” (29) A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. (30) Therefore when Jesus Had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” (31) And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

All things had already been accomplished, yet He still had one prophesy to fulfill before declaring, “It is finished” and committing His spirit into His Father’s hands: He had only to bring home Psalm 69.

Why this Psalm? Take a good look at it. It is about as prophetic as any of Isaiah’s writings, and was cited or quoted on more than one occasion.

Psalm 69 (summary and exerpts)

Verses 1-4 – Save me, O God… Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head…

Verses 5-12 – Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; Dishonor has covered my face… For zeal for Your house has consumed me. (See John 2:13-17 – … His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”)

Verses 13-19 – … Deliver me from the mire… May the flood of water not overflow me nor the deep swallow me up, nor the pit shut its mouth on me.

Verses 20-21 – … and I looked for sympathy, but there was none… They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Jesus specifically identifies with this, to indicate His being the real subject of David’s words).

Verses 22-23 – May their table before them become a snare, and when they are in peace, may it become a trap. (See Matthew 24:37-41) May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see… (See Matthew 13:10-17)

Verses 24-25 – Pour out Your indignation on them, and may Your burning anger overtake them. (Yes, that is the source of the second part of the ‘quote’) May their camp be desolate… (Matthew 23:38)

Verses 26-28 – For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten… Add iniquity to their iniquity, (See Matthew 23:34-35) … May they be blotted our of the book of life…

Verses 29-36 – … May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. I will praise the name of God with song… Let heaven and earth praise Him… for God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah (See 2 Peter 3:13. God was to create the new heavens and earth, the new Jerusalem, which represented the New Covenant. See our study All Things New) that they may dwell there and possess it (See Hebrews 12:22). The descendants of His servants will inherit it, and those who love His name will dwell in it (Who are the real descendants? See Galatians 3:29)

The above view of Psalm 69 serves to highlight that although written by David, the words are a prophesy to be fulfilled by Jesus. They encompass a variety of emotions, each of which Jesus would have been feeling as He hung on the cross:

  • Despair, loneliness and fear, as He suffered as a human,
  • Anger, as in righteousness He considered their wickedness and prayed for just retribution,
  • Joy and hope as He saw ahead to the restoration which His sacrifice was to achieve.

Where was the compassion? For His murderers, there was none. Although He lamented Jerusalem’s imminent demise in Matthew 23:27, here He could only call down His Father’s wrath on His enemies.

This was not just a prayer. It was a prophesy, and Jesus, by saying He was thirsty, cited it. In fact, He cited the last of the verses that dealt with His suffering (verses 1-21). Next would come the retribution, then the salvation of Zion and the building up of the cities of Judah.

Matthew 23:36 – “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Conclusion:

History shows that judgement, not forgiveness, is exactly what Jerusalem received. The forgiveness was reserved for a remnant, those who would repent and “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40)

Therefore, Jesus could simply not have asked for forgiveness for Jerusalem or Israel or mankind at large. It is, however, this kind of interpretation that people like to promote, painting God as the God of Love who even forgave those that crucified Him.

Yes, He prayed forgiveness for some from among those who crucified Him, but forgiveness of sins was only part of His earthly mission. By acting out elements of the psalms, Jesus repeated Davids call for help and his call for justice. Not forgiveness for His enemies, but judgement.

Salvation and judgement: These two elements coincide throughout the Bible. There is never one without the other. Jesus’ earthly ministry was not simply one of salvation and forgiveness, with judgement postponed for thousands of years. He came to earth with His winnowing fork already in His hand, ready to gather up the harvest and separate them into useful grain and worthless chaff for burning (Matthew 3:12). He came to cast fire on the earth (Luke 12:49,50), to judge it (John 9:39).

Psalm 69, among others that Jesus fulfilled, points to His suffering and His retribution, and finally His deliverance and the creation of the New Heavens and Earth.

Psalm 69:35,36 – For God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah, that they may dwell there and possess it. The descendants of His servants will inherit it, and those who love His name will dwell in it.

This describes His new covenant with His people.

Jeremiah 31:31-40 – “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant wit the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… (38) … “when the city will be rebuilt for the Lord… (40) … it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”

The Psalm has been fulfilled completely.

Luke 24:44 – “… that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

It was the reason He came to earth. He did not put part of it off for thousands of years.

Matthew 23:36 – “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

 

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